The Lifespan Expectancy Gender Gap Is Narrowing

A recent study analyzed data from a large group of countries

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Life expectancy by gender is changing.
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Historically, women have lived longer on average than their male counterparts. In 2020, Dr. Robert H. Shmerling wrote that “[t]he average lifespan is about 5 years longer for women than men in the U.S., and about 7 years longer worldwide” at the Harvard Health Blog. And yet some new data has predicted a shift in that dynamic — and while men aren’t quite at the point where their average lifespans are exceeding that of women, it sure seems like a convergence is on the horizon.

That’s the big takeaway from a new article by Kristen Fischer at Live Science. In it, Fischer points to a recent study that explored data from 190 countries and traced data trends over time. Fischer notes that in one group of countries that included North America and Japan, the lifespan gap “slightly narrowed, by about 0.2 years” between 1990 and 2010.

One of the study’s authors, David Atance, pointed to one indicator above all others as being responsible for the shift: “[T]he pace of increase in longevity — among women has been slowed,” he told Fischer.

However, the lifespan gap around the world differs from that in the United States alone. Last year, research conducted by scientists at the UC San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health noted that the lifespan gap between men and women in the United States was increasing. Among the issues cited in that change was the opioid epidemic.

“While rates of death from drug overdose and homicide have climbed for both men and women, it is clear that men constitute an increasingly disproportionate share of these deaths,” said Dr. Brandon Yan, the study’s lead author.

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The study also pointed to another factor contributing to changes in the lifespan gap: COVID-19, which was fatal to more men than women. Unfortunately, given the global effects of the pandemic, we’re likely to see its effect on studies like this more and more in the coming years.

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